January 20, 2013

The Story of Red Buckets............... .....(Philadelphia 1982-85)




I wonder what's on your mind
Look around and see

What it does to me

...Richard Mason was a high school kid in Boston when he formed his band Insteps and recorded his first songs sounding much like the early Cure, but I’ll save that for a later story.... Red Buckets, began at University of Pennsylvania around 1982, and eventually brought Richard and the band into the context of Crazy Rhythms-era Feelies, the Hoboken music scene at Maxwell’s, Dream Syndicate passing through, and the proto-Yo La Tengo record machine....  a key part of that little corner of the world that I only learned about recently....

Kris and Richard with Mark Tanzer (drums)
Kristen Yiengst: I started the band with my boyfriend at the time and a few friends. We needed a guitar player and the singer said, "there's this guy who checks IDs outside one of the dorms who says he plays guitar and seems pretty cool." Richard came in to audition, and my life took a turn. It was heaven; especially the early days - listening to records in our crummy West Philly apartments until all hours of the night feverishly drinking in as much inspiration as we could, writing and practicing every single night, scouring flea markets putting together our look - it was fast, furious and fun.

Palmyra Delran: I met Kris & Richard at WKDU radio station in Philly around '82/'83. They walked in the studio with such a cool look - sort of Velvets/Dylan vibe - and huge presence. We started yakking and struck up a friendship, & when I began going to their shows, I totally fell in love with their music.

Something Else Again from the compilation "I'd Rather Be in Philadelphia" (1983) 

Cordy Swope: I played guitar in Red Buckets from June-December of 1982, and played on the Something Else Again session, which was actually recorded in Boston after a show in Kenmore Square. I left to form Ruin in Philadelphia. I saw Richard once or twice over the years. He always had a small interior world he lived in for such a large talent. As his songwriting attests, Richard was a genius.

Palmyra: They were offered a gig at Folk City opening for 10,000 Maniacs (I think I'm remembering this correctly), but were between drummers. They said that I should play drums for that one gig, which at that point I hadn't played drums at all. We did a rehearsal or two, then Richard handed me a concertina & said I should play that too. There I was, playing two different instruments that I'd never played before, but in a weird way, it worked. Richard was very persuasive and had such a strong vision.

Michael Carlucci: I first heard Red Buckets when Ward 8 (pre-Winter Hours) played with them at Maxwell's in 1983. I was taken with them almost immediately. During their set Steve Fallon told me they were looking for a new guitarist and drummer. So Stan (Demeski) and I approached them after their set and made arrangements to rehearse with them. Richard sent rehearsal tapes of their songs for us to learn for a show we were to perform with them in Philadelphia in two weeks. We had one two hour rehearsal just before the show. I had a cheat sheet on the side of the stage with the chords for each song. The performance was praised in the Aquarian Weekly. Shortly after, we recorded a two-song demo of Jane September and Cover Your Eyes which we used to book shows.

Kristen: I am still surprised at the reception we received from people that we admired and were actually fans of. Ira Kaplan's initial support gave us our first big boost. Steve Fallon championed us and more opportunities opened up. And then being able to play with talented musicians like Stanley, Michael, Glenn, Dave and Rob took the music to places I never imagined possible when we first started. It was incredible.

Glenn Mercer: The first time I heard the Red Buckets was in the early 80's when the Trypes were playing a show at Folk City in NYC. It was part of the Music For Dozens series put together by Ira Kaplan and Michael Hill. The Red Buckets were the opening band and I remember that they seemed to share many of the same influences as us: mid 60's, Velvets, Byrds, Love etc. I liked them a lot and they stuck out as one of the few opening bands that actually fit together with, and were a compliment to, our sound. I don't remember hearing much of them in the next year or so, mostly because I was busy with the various bands I played in (the Feelies were also starting up again at this point.)

Stan Demeski: I guess my memories and relationship with Red Buckets starts at the same show Glenn is referring to. I think it was the Dream Syndicate who headlined. I remember how "Jane September" sounded a lot like "Tell Me When It's Over.” Ira Kaplan was an early supporter and Kris and Richard were good at networking. So we met and became friendly. I was always looking for playing opportunities back then so I gave them the "if you ever need a drummer" offer. It seemed like the 2nd guitar player was just a temp and the drummer wanted out of music so shortly afterwards my friend Mike Carlucci and I filled those spots. This lineup lasted, maybe, 6 months?

I remember playing Maxwell's once and Philadelphia twice. I was still in college and playing in about 7 bands at the time. Kris and Richard wanted a bigger commitment (mostly they wanted to split rehearsals between Philly and NJ), I refused and was handed my walking papers. I was fine with it and we stayed friends. I continued going to see them when they played locally. That line up that followed my departure seemed to be the best lineup of the band.

Michael: Stan left shortly after we recorded the [Jane September] demo to pursue a career with the Feelies and Trypes. Enter Rob Winfelder who would be my traveling companion as we traveled in two separate vehicles from Boston to Philly. We opened for the likes of True West, Green On Red, Chesterfield Kings, Dream Syndicate, Go-Between and REM. Maxwell's would become our home base and our rehearsal space. Ira Kaplan at the time was Maxwell's soundman. He took an immediate liking to the band. I can still see his big wide grin while we performed. Glenn Mercer, Rob Norris and Glenn Morrow would often turn up at our shows. Steve Fallon offered to put out an LP on his Coyote label. So we began recording demos with Danny Amis (of the Raybeats) on his Fostex 4-track. We recorded two songs Washboard and "Whistling."

Rob Winfelder: I was the drummer for about a year or a bit more. I knew them from the Philly scene. It was not exactly the type of music that I personally wanted to pursue. But they were in a jam and they had something really good going on, and they are really nice folks. I did not want to see them stuck. Got to see a whole lot of Hoboken and Boston.

Michael: We played a couple more shows in New York at Danceteria and CBGB's. Right around then Richard was becoming increasingly difficult to work with as he became more controlling and attempting to work out guitar parts for me which didn't work for me. I became less interested and left the band after our show at Danceteria and put all my energy into my own band Winter Hours.

Glenn: I got to know Richard a bit when we were hanging out at Maxwell's in Hoboken. He seemed to have a strong drive to make Red Buckets a success and often appeared frustrated in his pursuit. Shortly after this, I had heard that Michael and Stan had stopped playing with them. Then, Richard approached me and asked if I would be interested in playing with the Red Buckets. He also asked Dave (Weckerman) to join on drums.

Dave and I went to a few rehearsals at Maxwell's, and everything seemed ok at first. Soon, however, Richard started to get more demanding about the guitar parts and it became less fun. I remember that he wanted to play a cover of a Nick Drake song and asked me to copy a guitar phrase precisely as it was on the record. I've never really saw the reason to copy records note-for-note and have always preferred to put my own spin on cover songs. I remember both of us getting frustrated at the rehearsal and I think we wrapped it up early. A week or two went by and I got a call from Richard (who still lived in Penn.) asking me to drive out to his place to rehearse. I explained that it was too short notice and it was also starting to snow. Richard then spent the next 10 minutes trying to persuade me to change my mind by saying how much he felt like playing at that moment. He really sounded like he was disappointed that I had let him down. Needless to say, we never played together again.

Rob: Richard, Kris, and Michael were really nice folks. I am very glad I had that experience with them. One of the first shows I played with them was in Boston and we were driving from Philly. I didn't know them very well so I asked my good friend Palmyra Delran to come with us. Zero notice, she grabbed a toothbrush and came with us. We all had a blast.

Stan: Of course, that version of the band ended after maybe a year? And a year or two later Kris and Richard called me and asked me to play on some demos at Water Music in Hoboken. I was pretty happy with the results and very flattered to have been asked to do it.

Kristen: ...practice tapes of sessions with Michael and Stanley from when we tried to get it back together sound just sublime. But no one else ever got to hear those new songs we were working on.

Glenn: I didn't mind that things never worked out, as I soon became more and more focused on the Feelies. Perhaps that was the real reason, rather than musical differences, that prevented the situation from going forward. I ran into Richard and Kris now and then at various Feelies shows and it was always nice seeing them again. Then, after a while we lost contact and I began to hear stories of Richard's problems with substance abuse and I wondered what impact his musical frustrations contributed to his lifestyle, and vice-versa.

I wonder what's on your mind

I think I'll throw it all away

Rob: Their music had a very sentimental feeling to it. Almost a sadness to it. When I say it was not the type of music I wanted to pursue it is only because my passion is creating harder more aggressive music. But that does not mean I didn't enjoy listening to their music. I did, very much infact. Hahaha my mohawk didn't really fit with the image either. They made me use a sizzle cymbal for crying out loud. Richard knew I hated it. He would bring it to gigs with him and he would have the same look on his face every time he handed it to me. That type of "sorry I know you hate this but I am handing it to you anyway" type of look. Their music had a real honest sounding sentimental quality to it that I did not want to see go away.

Stan: Around 1986 The Feelies started doing the rehearse/record/tour cycle and that cut off most of my outside activities, although I kept in touch mostly with Kris over the years. At the end of The Feelies (1991) we revived the Kris/Richard/Mike and me lineup. We only rehearsed but I was really enjoying the new material we were working on. It was like Television and Richard Thompson playing together. Some health problems were becoming evident with certain band members and then Dean asked me to record with and eventually join Luna. Which led to another 4 1/2 years of the rehearse/record/tour cycle, and my losing touch with Kris and Richard.

Palmyra: I sort of lost touch with them a little in the late 80's because of my own musical endeavors, but re-connected with Kris around 1992 to ask if she would fill in playing bass with the Friggs when we were in between bass players (payback, I guess). She agreed to play, and although I knew it wasn't really her thing musically, she went with it & we always had such a blast. We've stayed in touch ever since, and I count her as one of my dearest friends.

Michael: Richard was one of the finest songwriters I've ever worked with, but he was his own worst enemy, sabotaging his relationships with musicians he came into contact with. In 1992 I received a call from Richard asking me if I'd like to get together to play with him again. I jumped at the opportunity. His new songs were better than ever. We made a few basement tape recordings, but sadly, due to both of our problems with substance abuse it never got off the ground. Richard moved back to Boston where I never heard from him again until Ira Kaplan contacted me with the sad news of Richard's passing.

I think I'll throw it all away

Glenn: Even though I was aware of his problems, I was surprised when I heard of his passing and saddened by the thought of another unfulfilled end to a very promising beginning.

Dave “Bass” Brown: I always thought Richard should do a solo LP and approached him about it when I started some labels. I tracked him down at his dad’s house and wrote him a letter. He wrote back and we were seriously talking about recording something. I put it on the back burner and a few years went by, then I called his house and his dad told Me that Richard had passed on. It wasn’t drugs like everyone thought. It was due to complications with Richard being a diabetic.

Stan: I'm not sure when I heard that Richard had died but all I could (and can) think is, "what a waste." And how lucky I was to get to play in so many great music situations. I still keep in touch with Kris and I'm still happy that I got to be a member and contributor to Kris and Richard's band and music.

Michael: In December 2004 we held a memorial show at Maxwell's. The line-up beside myself would include Kris Yiengst, Stan Demeski, Glenn Mercer and Ira Kaplan as the core band with guests Rob Winfelder, Rob Norris, Sean Eden and Palmyra Delran. Out of this the band East of Venus with Glenn, Rob Norris, Stan and myself was formed.

Glenn: When Michael decided to put together a memorial show for Richard, I didn't hesitate at all and I found the event to be a fitting, and ultimately positive undertaking (in that it put me back in touch with a few musician friends) that led to the start of another band, East Of Venus, with Stan, Michael and Rob Norris (former member of the Bongos.)

Guy Ewald: …It was great hearing Red Buckets' repertoire again; it really stood the test of time. They had a sort of Urban Folk-Rock sound (say, VU & TV meets Fairport) and did wonderful covers of Nick Drake's 'Which Will' and Sandy Denny's 'It'll Take A Long Time.' Their own songs were so good that most people thought those [cover] tunes were band originals (pretty obscure back in 1983... Nick Drake hadn't started hawking VW's yet). But even with the underground superstar lineup the Tribute Night only drew about 25 people to Maxwell's on a Thursday night.

Palmyra: The tribute to Richard night at Maxwell's was so bittersweet. I played acoustic guitar on Jane September, and was thrilled to share the stage with all these great musicians. Yet, the evening was a sad finale/tribute to an incredibly talented & tortured soul.

Rob: Richard’s lyrics were simple and honest and sweet, but is conversations thrived on biting sarcasm. It was a real contrast. He loved to make people laugh by just being as bitter as possible about almost everything. He was always a total gentlemen to me. What a funny guy. Missed.

Michael: Richard was an amazing talent with tremendous wit and a huge ego to match and low self esteem, so that he didn't take criticism well. He had a well tuned ear and a sharp eye for graphics. A few of the flyers he designed in a folk art style for some of our shows back in the days when cut and paste was with scissors and glue. My only regret, that we never got to make a record together. I do however have enough songs to perhaps record an album "The Songs of Richard Mason" with a bunch of friends.

Palmyra: I would love to see a reissue of the old Red Buckets recordings, or if Michael's idea of "The Songs of Richard Mason" can come to fruition some day. Their music always felt so special.

And if dreams come back to me
I'll pretend that I don't see
I'll just cover my eyes and stare

It'll surely come

Here it comes again



Kristen: Looking back I don't know how I could have ever thought it could last. It became hell, and certain things still haunt me. But I am grateful for the experience, and the people I met along the way.

...I am thrilled that people are still thinking about the band.

Thanks to all the members of Red Buckets and friends who contributed:
Michael Bennet of Lost Barbecue and The Dupont Circles was the first I ever heard of Red Buckets and it was his idea to do a post on them.
Dave “Bass” Brown of Insteps, the Young Snakes, Negative FX, and the Lyres; runs some or all of Moulty/Distortions/Funkadelphia Records. Is a Red Buckets vinyl reissue in our future?
Michael Carlucci sent in the Red Buckets demo tracks and photos included here. He formed Winter Hours; now plays with East of Venus. They have two Red Buckets covers posted here and may include Jane September on their upcoming album. 
Palmyra Delran played a Moe Tucker drum kit in Das Yahoos and Pink Slip Daddy and plays guitar in The Friggs and her solo outfit
Stan Demeski of The Feelies, The Trypes, Luna, and East of Venus. 
Guy Ewald recorded some of Red Buckets Maxwell's shows and posted key info on Steve Hoffman Music Forum that got things rolling.
Glenn Mercer of The Feelies, The Trypes, and East of Venus. 
Cordy Swope of Ruin
Rob Winfelder of Live Not On Evil just released a new album on Creep Records.
Kristen Yiengst played with The Friggs and Mean Reds and is VP of Creative Services at Def Jam/Island Records. "Working on album covers is another childhood dream come true. I've been very lucky."

9 comments:

  1. I too would love to hear all that unreleased Red Buckets stuff: rehearsals, Richard's demos, etc. Time to Bandcamp it!

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  2. Great article, thanks for sharing.

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  3. Woah, that was mind blowing. A band involving Stan Demeski and Michael Carlucci that I'd never heard of, PLUS their name is the basis of a YLT song???? My mind is officially blown that I'd never heard of this. Thank you for posting, this is awesome!

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  5. I played guitar in Red Buckets from June-December of 1982, and played on the Something Else Again session, which was actually recorded in Boston after a show in Kenmore Square. I left to form Ruin in Philadelphia. I saw him once or twice over the years. He always had a small interior world he lived in for such a large talent. As his songwriting attests, Richard was a genius.

    Cordy

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  6. I did that session in Boston for "Something Else Again." I had known Richard since his first combo "the Insteps" with Beth Kaplan of Salem 66 and Dave Bass of too many combos to mention. R.M. was born that way. The same attributes and observations accorded to him later in his life by folks who were drawn into orbit by the gravity of his talent, have always been present. A remarkable friend.

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  7. Kevin Croughn
    I became friends with Richard and Kris when I was working at Maxwell's and they moved into an apartment on Hudson street around the corner. Richard knew that I was a fan of the Runaways and for my birthday they gave me an lp which was "Cherie and Marie Currie - Messin' with the Boys". I was touched and surprised when Kris told me that Richard had picked it out and was excited about giving it to me, I didn't see that side of him that often. Yes, he was sarcastic and a little mean if he didn't like you but if he did like you he was a good friend. Another time they insisted that I go with them to Philly to see "Hot Tuna" and before the show gave me a short tour of the MOVE bomb site. It was an unusual night to say the least. I miss Richard and I should keep in touch with Kris more often.

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  8. I worked as an ID checker at Penn with Richard when we were both freshman. He came across as cool and kinda shy. I think we started talking because I was playing Eno's Music For Films when he came to relieve me at a kiosk on the lower quad. He had graffitti'ed the names of lots of obscure bands ("Swell Maps," "Firetruck." etc.) inside the kiosk, so we got to talking. Artsy kids at Penn were definitely in the minority then, '81-'82.
    I seem to remember a very old Red Buckets gig, very lightly attended outdoors on a Sunday afternoon on the Drexel campus. I think it was Richard who hipped me to the idea that "Music For Dozens" show at Folk City in NYC were important to see.

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